Some children play football, and some run track, but 18-year-old Zach Lovett plays a different sport: "My legs were always weak. They still are. The guitar became my sport," he says.
Born with hyperextension in both of his legs, Lovett relied on his fingers to do the running as he would pick and slap his guitar strings every day after school.
His mother nicknamed him Fingers Lovett because he was constantly meddling with things as a child. "It's kind of taken on a new meaning, since I play music," Lovett says. "I guess the guitar kept my hands busy."
Lovett's music has been more than just playing an instrument. It has been his sport and his medication. But more important than either of these things, his music is an outlet—a way for him to connect with people and share experiences and emotion. That's what Lovett means when he says "blues."
"Blues isn't a sound to me," he says. "It's what you're singing about."
The young man's father, Mike, reared him listening to artists like Bob Dylan, John Prine and Neil Young. Like their songs, his are about the words.
"I'll listen to Lady Gaga," he says, "but that's not what I'm about."
He believes that a lot of music has lost meaning in popular culture.
"When I write a song, I'm finding things about myself. When you hear it, I want you to discover things about yourself," the bluesman says. He is searching for a feeling and a crowd to connect with. He isn't searching for fame and fortune. In fact, he says he hates that so many musicians today seem to be chasing the next dollar.
"I'm glad people are starting to listen," he says. "I think I have something to say."
Lovett likes to cover songs by musicians like Josh Ritter and Conor Oberst. He refers to Oberst as the Bob Dylan of his generation. But when he wants to make a connection with his listening audience, the singing guitarist prefers to play original music. His favorite song, "Planted," does just that, it seems.
"People make situations warm and cozy," he says. "In that song, there's just a want for someone to come along and make you whole. That's what that song is. That's my song. I put my whole soul into that song. There's emotion there. I've never had a song touch me every time I sing it until this one. ‘Planted' does it every time. It hits me deep."
In late January, Lovett will begin recording his first album, along with his friend Clayton Gregory of Cleveland, Miss., who will assist with string arrangements and keyboards. The album, the first-time recording artist says, will have a "funky southern sound."
The maturing musician has played at Hal & Mal's for Mississippi HeARTS against AIDS for the last couple of years along with artists like Scott Albert Johnson.
"It's a really nice event. If you're a fan of the arts, that's something to partake in," Lovett says. He also plays at a couple of local bars around Delta State when he's at school, and he always makes his Tuesday open-mic appearance at Fenian's, when he gets a chance.
Aside from playing guitar, Lovett has taught himself to play the harmonica and mandolin. His newest ambition is to play the banjo. He admits that bluegrass has a heavy influence on his music.
"It takes real talent to play bluegrass," he says. "Bluegrass is the metal of country music. ... All I want for Christmas is a banjo and a record player." (And he got them!)